"Dammit," Jack said. He shifted; his dog tags swung to the left, smacking Daniel in the eye.
"Jack," Daniel said, "could you try not to do that?"
"That," Daniel said, as the dog tags whacked him again.
"Look, it's not like I have a lot of options here," Jack said irritably.
"I can get them, sir." Sam leaned forward and grabbed the dog tags with her teeth, then flung them away with a shake of her head. The tags arced in the air and came down with a vicious thud on Daniel's eye.
"Sorry," Sam said, but she was grinning, and before Jack turned his head Daniel could swear he saw a shark grin on Jack's face, too.
"Well, where did you think they would go?" Daniel said. He couldn't feel his hands and his legs were asleep.
"I was trying to catch them in a loop of the net," she answered. "I could try again...?"
"Uh, no. No thanks." Daniel peered through the tangle of fabric and limbs toward the other side of their prison; the net had caught them in a gigantic bundle, like forest prey, and raised them about twenty feet off the ground. "I'm getting seasick," he said, and to prove his point, his stomach growled loudly.
Jack's upside-down face loomed next to Daniel's forehead. "Oh no you don't. Suck it up, Daniel. I'm not kidding."
"Can't we stop this thing from swaying?" Daniel asked. His glasses had been knocked off in the violence of the up-sweep, and the gentle spinning of the net was killing his equilibrium.
"Maybe if we stop trying to reach around," Sam said. "It doesn't seem to be doing much good anyway."
"Seeing as how my arm isn't growing any longer," Daniel added, and tucked his chin down to his chest to avoid Jack's death glare.
"Patience, kids. There's a way out of this."
"O'Neill." Teal'c's knee was wedged into the small of Daniel's back; that much, he could feel quite clearly. An hour ago they'd tried to shift positions in their prison, but that had only pressed the hard bone deeper into his back. "My patience was exhausted some time ago."
"So you're at the crushing heads stage, then."
Daniel snorted a laugh and flailed his hand again, connecting with Jack's ass. Under any other circumstances, that might have earned him a sarcastic remark from Jack, but in this case he was working hard to get Jack's knife from its sheath. The net swiveled with his motion, provoking a cry of "Daniel!" from Sam, and a grunt from Teal'c. Jack, though...Jack was laughing. Or at least, it felt like laughter; his breath was huffing out against Daniel's ear. "Damn alien booby traps," Jack said, and then Sam giggled, and Jack and Sam were laughing out loud.
Daniel kicked the toe of his boot in Sam's direction. "What about this is funny? Teal'c's not laughing." He couldn't get the words out with a straight face, though; all he had to do was picture Teal'c's expression, his frown directed at some point right between Daniel's shoulderblades, and he lost it totally, a full-on belly laugh.
Their tenth mission together - an anniversary, of sorts - and they were trussed up like turkeys awaiting their turn in the oven.
When they all finally stopped laughing - Daniel didn't actually *hear* Teal'c laughing, but he was sure Teal'c was distantly amused - and caught their breath, Jack shifted around and said, "So. 99 bottles of beer on the wall?"
When the Terellan Chancellor dropped the dog tags in Daniel's hand, they were covered with blood - a fine spray of it, the kind Daniel knew could have come from a man spitting out a broken tooth, or from a slashed throat. No way of telling which this was. He stared at them for a long moment before he moved his hand, before his fingers slid through Jack's blood to reveal the name: O'Neill - John J.
"You will complete the negotiations for us," Chancellor Mirel said quietly, "or we will kill your leader."
Daniel's thumb pressed hard against the imprint of Jack's name. The metal warmed beneath his touch. "How do I know he's not already dead?"
"You do not." Mirel sat down at the long table opposite Daniel. "Nor do you have any guarantee we will not execute the rest of your friends. You have only my word on this matter."
Daniel's fingertips were sticky, smeared with red. He pressed his lips together hard to give himself time to think before speaking. The only words in his mind were lifted by anger. After several seconds had passed, he said softly, "This is how you give your word?"
"I choose the method I believe to be most effective," Mirel said. He looked Daniel squarely in the eye. "Not unlike your own leader, who I believe to be a man of practical wisdom."
Daniel clenched the tags in a tight fist. "You're nothing like our leader."
"Perhaps not. In any case, I do not require your agreement. I require only your obedience. Will I have it?"
Yes. No. Options raced through Daniel's mind. He bowed his head to avoid giving away anything via the expression on his face. The Terellans had slaughtered an entire village of civilians as the opening gambit in their 'negotiations' for the territory of the Mingosians. Jack's instructions to Daniel had been clear: no services offered by the SGC, no help, no translation, no diplomacy. They'd bunked down on the open ground with Sam on watch, since it was a full day's hike back to the gate.
Sam. Daniel forced himself to relax, to display an open posture. "Are they all still alive?"
Daniel's heart skipped a beat. This planet's internal problems were no concern of theirs; Jack was right on that point, and they'd agreed, for once. But the game had just changed. He sorted it out, piece by piece. By cooperating, he stood to lose nothing - he wouldn't be giving technology away; the Goa'uld weren't involved, so there was no threat to security. The SGC was a third party, nothing more. It was only the principle of the thing that disturbed Jack, and until their capture, Daniel had found the irony rather amusing.
Jack, more than anyone, should understand the shades of grey in this situation. Daniel wouldn't be harming Earth's interests. There was no question that he'd have to agree, even though Jack's exasperated expression was crystal clear in Daniel's imagination.
He raised his head. "I'll do it."
"I was certain you were a reasonable man," Mirel said. "We will begin immediately."
Two days - two long, difficult days, filled with misunderstandings and accusations. Whenever Daniel looked into the eyes of the Mingosian minister, he wanted to crawl into the nearest corner, or explain himself - the desire to apologize for helping the Terellans was hard to resist. But he had nothing to offer, no excuse to give. The price for honesty would be too high.
At night he laid awake, eyes fixed on a single point in the golden ceiling, and tried to track back to the point where principle had become just a word, just a point on a line that constantly shifted and disappeared from sight in the darkness. Principles were all he had in a culture of regulations and orders and death. They had proven surprisingly easy to abandon. Daniel thought Jack might see some irony in that, too, if they ever got off Terosia alive.
Once the negotiations were concluded, they brought Jack out first, with promises Teal'c and Sam would be along soon. Daniel guided him to a bench and looked him over. Jack's right eye was swollen shut, his upper lip puckered around two gashes. He looked at Daniel steadily, until Daniel looked away. Daniel fished in his pocket and pulled out the dog tags, still stained with blood. He couldn't explain - wouldn't - why he hadn't cleaned them.
"Jack." It was impossible to keep the relief from his voice.
"I'm guessing you disobeyed my orders."
"Yes." Daniel's hands were shaking, but not because of Jack's question.
Jack nodded; he was watching Daniel carefully, and Daniel wished Jack didn't know him quite so well. "We're going to talk about this, later," Jack said, in a tone Daniel was all too familiar with. There were many answers he could have given, but instead, he took Jack's hand in his own and turned it palm up. When the tags and chain were safely returned to their owner, he finally met Jack's eyes.
"No. We're not."
The first time, it was an accident. Daniel's hands were everywhere, slipping over Jack's skin, and his fingers tangled with the chain around Jack's neck. Jack gasped and pushed back against him violently, provoking a harsh moan from Daniel; he was buried deep inside Jack's body, and the little control he had left wouldn't last against that kind of pressure.
"Fuck, Daniel," Jack growled, and Daniel struggled to get his hand free of the chain, but Jack shuddered beneath him and unleashed a string of guttural demands.
"Jack," Daniel whispered. He tried to match the erratic, frantic rhythm of Jack's hips, but Jack wouldn't let him; he was wild beneath Daniel's touch, and it still wasn't enough. Daniel wrapped his arms around Jack's waist and pulled him up, body to body, his chest pressed against the length of Jack's back. He ran his hands up Jack's chest, steadying him, and twisted his hand through the chain.
"Yes, oh Christ Daniel..." and then Daniel moved, and Jack moved with him, perfect unison, hard and fast and they were almost close enough together to be one person. Daniel stroked into him, aware only of the taste of Jack's sweat, the skin of his shoulder beneath Daniel's lips and teeth, the messy slick feel of his come against Daniel's palm as he arched into his orgasm.
Daniel caught his breath; the chain snapped, and Daniel shattered with it, not quite who he had been, before; when he slipped from inside Jack's body and curled up in the circle of his arms, he was more alive than he had ever dreamed he would be. He touched the welt on Jack's neck where the chain had dug into his skin, kissed it, watched Jack's eyes darken before Jack kissed the question away.
The second time, it was deliberate.
"This is not up for debate, Daniel." Jack shoved the dog tags down over his head; the chain scraped across Daniel's nose. Immediately Daniel reached up and tried to pull them off again, but Jack caught his hands and held them immobile. He pushed then, and Daniel slammed into the tree trunk behind him. "Don't."
"I won't let you do it!" Daniel was fighting him in earnest now; desperation gave him added leverage. It took all Jack's strength to subdue him without tossing him on the ground.
"This is an order, Daniel. I know you still recognize an order when you hear one."
"They'll make you a slave," Daniel hissed. "Don't you understand that? They think these are a mark of your status among your people. The amulets of leadership are the only thing protecting you."
"So you'll be the leader and I'll be the slave. I have an idea how that works," Jack said. "I'm career military, remember?" The flimsy joke didn't get through to Daniel; it broke apart against his furious desperation. "You need to get into that hall of knowledge or whateverthefuck it's called and get that Ancient tablet. And then you need to go get help." Jack shook him, just enough to get his attention. "My knees can't take all that kneeling."
"Jack," Daniel said. So much he didn't add; the memory of the slave being tortured to death in the middle of the square was still vivid for Jack as well. All the more reason to make sure Daniel wasn't their next target. "I should have figured it out - I should have realized what the amulets meant. I could have --"
"We don't have time for this." Jack straightened the chain. Like miniature armor, his name settled against Daniel's chest, a barrier between Daniel and harm. Those tags were a part of him, like his left arm. It wasn't much protection, but it would have to do, for now.
Laira's hands were gentle, her touch more soothing than erotic. She had a way of stripping Jack down to the essentials - removing his illusions, his inhibitions, his hopes - until finally, he was only flesh and blood before her, a man in need of a home she could not provide.
When she reached for the chain around his neck he caught her hand and moved it away from his skin. In the semi-darkness, the flame of the candle caught the question in her eyes, but he had no answer for her. Clothes could be removed; this was a part of him, like blood or bone or a name, and he couldn't just strip it away.
She nestled next to him in the bed, warm and willing, and her fingertips curled against his chest. "Will you not remove these?" she asked. It was a simple, reasonable request.
He smiled to take the sting from his refusal, but her dark earnest look made him pause. These were his past, but she was all that remained of a future. This is what he ought to believe, accept; he knew it. Even so, the touch of her fingers against his chest was delicate, too gentle.
"Not yet," he told her, knowing she would not understand.
Later, as he moved inside her, she clutched the tags in her hand and a swift pain settled in Jack's heart. She was strong, determined; she had made up her mind what she wanted, and she had taken it. He admired her for this, and for many other reasons, but there were some barriers she was not strong enough to break past. Even if he grew old with her, gave her children - even if he died on this peaceful world -his heart would never belong to her.
When he kissed her, the chain slipped from her grasp.
Choices. Obligations. Daniel strained against them, helpless to prevent anything that had come before, or was yet to come. Oma perceived his question: what may I do to help him? Her answer was always the same: you may not interfere.
He fashioned himself into a semblance of what he had been, in case Jack should wake, in case he needed a familiar friend to cling to. This, Oma would permit, although he felt her disapproval. It was her school, her universe; he was but a child, still learning. Jack was pale, his heartbeat slowed to a pace Daniel could perceive, but faintly.
Daniel became a shadow -- listening, observing, hovering near.
"He is improving," Thoran said. "Kanan may yet save him."
"I fear for Kanan when O'Neill wakes." Elosha - a Tok'ra Daniel hadn't seen in many years - stared down into Jack's face, her expression a mixture of curiosity and disgust.
"I was assured he agreed to the implanation. We will have a little time to extract the information we require from Kanan before O'Neill insists dissolution of the blending."
"He may have agreed, but this is O'Neill. You are aware of his history with the Tok'ra."
"Yes." Thoran reached down suddenly and tugged something from beneath the blanket - a chain. Jack's dog tags. "Remove these immediately."
"Those are the identification marks of his Tau'ri rank," Elosha said.
"He is Tok'ra now." Thoran dropped the tags, then turned away, without ever looking too closely at Jack. Daniel drifted nearer; a fraction of thought was all he required to transport himself. The lines on Jack's face were deep and heavily drawn; he looked old. Too old. It was as if all his energy, all that made him what he was, had been trapped inside this shell of a man.
You may not interfere.
But I see the light within him.
Be that as it may. You will abide by the parameters.
Elosha held Jack's tags in her hand a moment more, then slowly tucked them back beneath the blanket. "There is yet time for you to be as you are," her host said, though Jack could not hear her.
Daniel traveled the path of Jack's body, through him, around him, over him, begging him without words: wake up. The absence of sound and touch made him long to be as he was; hope and desire were phantom pains in his formless body. He was everywhere, and nothing; near enough to touch, but forever apart.
Of all the cures available in the universe, Jack had found stretching out on the hard planks of the dock to be the best thing for his back. He sprawled under the late afternoon sun, a beer in one hand and a piece of cold chicken in the other, and let the dock do its magic on his aching spine. He felt...free. No shirt, no shoes, no uniform, no responsibility.
He wasn't sure yet whether or not he liked it.
"Want another beer?" Daniel's voice sounded from somewhere above and behind. Jack could have opened his eyes, but it would have required too much effort.
"Sure." He gnawed the last of the meat from the thigh bone, then gave the bone a gentle fling toward his feet. It plopped into the water off the edge of the dock, which caused an involuntary smile. This, of course, attracted Daniel, since Daniel was a sucker for smiles and beer breath.
Warm kisses, and a warmer body pressed over the length of his own. His dick was up for the challenge, despite the fact that they'd been at it on and off all day, but Daniel stole a couple more kisses and pulled away. He pressed a cold bottle into Jack's hand and sat up cross-legged beside him. "Why did it take you so long to invite me up here?" he asked.
"Hey," Jack said, and sat up so he could see Daniel's face. "I invited you up here years ago."
"Only because you knew I couldn't actually take you up on it at the time." The half-smile on Daniel's face took the sting from his accusation. "You were afraid, weren't you?"
"No, I wouldn't say I was afraid...exactly..." Jack rolled the beer bottle between his palms; after a moment, the truth popped out like a layer of skin falling away. "Okay, yes."
Daniel nodded, still looking out at the water. Jack watched Daniel's bare feet, his toes wiggling against the warm dock. Eventually he shifted his attention northward, to Daniel's tousled hair. There was still plenty of it, even if some silver was creeping in. He set his bottle aside and scooted back to wrap his arms around Daniel's body, then waited for the sigh of contentment this invariably produced. His legs were longer, so he was able to find Daniel's toes with his own and wiggle with them.
They sat that way until the chill of twilight chased the last of the warmth from the air. Daniel stretched. Jack kissed the nape of his neck; he had half a hard-on, and nothing sounded as good to him right that moment as crawling into a warm bed with Daniel and sleeping for a week. Or fucking for a week. Whichever Daniel was into.
Daniel's fingers slid down the back of his hand and laced through his own. "I'll get a fire going," he said. Jack grinned at him, a little lopsided, and it was enough to bring Daniel right to him; Daniel half-sleepy and horny, with his hands traveling beneath the waistband of Jack's sweats, and gentle laughter in his kiss. Jack loved that - loved the way he only had to touch his lips to Daniel's for Daniel to open to him, loved the way his tongue teased along Jack's, the sounds he made when Jack deepened the kiss.
"Go ahead," Jack said. "I'll be there in a minute."
Daniel nodded. He collected the beer bottles and stuffed them in the cooler, then headed back up toward the cabin. When he walked away, he walked on the outside edges of his feet, protecting the soft bottoms from the splintery old dock.
Jack turned back toward the water. He bowed his head and slipped off his dog tags. They were light as a feather in his hand, lighter than they'd ever been before. He tossed them once or twice to listen to the slink-noise of the chain, to make sure they were actually there. Too light to sink; too heavy to float.
The faint smell of woodsmoke drifted through the air. Jack hung the tags on the left post of the dock; after some time had passed, he imagined he might forget about them. In the meantime, Daniel had a tendency to build his fires too small. Jack's expertise was required.